A brand may be viewed not solely as a sign added to products to differentiate them from competing goods, but as a semiotic engine whose function is to constantly produce meaning and values.
– Heilbrunn, Benoît
A brand is a company’s most powerful and valuable intangible asset. It is how the consumer, employees, partners or investors identify a company. It is what they communicate, connect and interact with. It is the personality and the image. Brand culture as such, plays a supporting role in providing value and meaning to brand. It humanises the business model.
What is Brand Culture?
Drawing closely upon the anthropological concept of culture and numerous marketing studies, brand culture is the way of being within the company. It is how people working within the company communicate, interact, engage and react internally and externally. It comprises a set of symbols, shared values, beliefs, behaviours, and assumptions. In other words, brand culture is the “heart and soul” of a business.
When a consumer interacts with a brand that aligns and connects with their most deeply-held values, beliefs and sense of identity, they are basically both drawing that brand into their own world and entering the world of that brand. The key to unlocking the mystery of what the consumer desire is to create a world that the consumer can enter.
This is the idea behind brand culture.
Brand Culture Now and Then
The concept of brand culture has been around for over a decade or so. However, the need to understand the mechanisms of brand culture has become more evident nowadays.
As brand consultants, we are finding that, more often than not, when we sit down and have an honest chat with the CEO and management-level of a company, their biggest worry is only about how the business can increase its profits. They fail to see the importance of aligning the company internally around a single vision and purpose to achieve their ultimate goal. With the absence of a strong, clearly-articulated set of core values driving behaviour, employees often feel unmotivated and lost. Or, if there is a clear set of core values, employees do not see anyone living those values and they become cynical, jaded and demoralised.
In the eyes of the business, brand culture is still a fuzzy concept, an intangible aspect that cannot be justified and quantified in a short period of time. Thus what is lacking now in most businesses, especially within small-medium enterprises (SMEs), is the perseverance and persistence to oversee the positive long-term impacts on the overall organisational processes and performance.
Today, businesses are starting to realise that importance of brand culture and people play an important role in driving a change in their business values, which ultimately affects their bottom-line to a large extent. Companies are shifting their focus in their businesses from product/service-centric to customer-centric, and finally to being people-centric (i.e. employee, customers and other stakeholders).
One good example would be that of the award-winning branding consultancy, Landor Associates Singapore. Landor sees the true value of people and internal branding to appeal and align internal stakeholders such as employees and management’s views and feelings towards the brand.
“My First Day” programme which comprises a ride in a limousine to and from work, lunch with the boss, an afternoon massage, and afternoon tea with the whole office, showcases the things that a Landor Associate employee gets to enjoy and experience on his or her first day at work.
The president of Landor’s Southeast Asia and Pacific regions and managing director of Landor Singapore, Nick Foley, understands the importance of creating an environment where people love working, which will indirectly affect the various aspects of the business such as the quality of work and how each employee represents the brand. By harnessing the desired brand culture well from day one, Foley looks to attract and retain the right talent for the company, so as to boost up the business’s bottom-line indirectly.
So Why Brand Culture Matters
Brand culture is important as it not only adds meaning towards the business, but also gives meaning to the stakeholders such as employee, investors, partners and consumers in order to drive the business.
Companies must build a brand culture that is ingrained in the heart and soul of the organization and radiates outward as a natural set of actions based on a common ethos and worldview. This brand culture will not only unite employees in a common purpose and vision, it will also draw in consumers and engage them in a deep and meaningful relationship that exceeds the traditional marketing goals of brand preference and brand loyalty.
Ultimately, companies will be able to benefit from brand culture as it helps the business to uniquely differentiate itself from the rest of the competition, and provide the business a competitive advantage as competitors cannot easily imitate them.
As management guru, Peter Drucker states, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. No matter how far reaching a leader’s vision or how brilliant the business strategy, neither will be realised if not supported by people, and ultimately an organization’s culture. Thus, brand culture is an incredibly powerful factor in a company’s long-term success.
Brand Culture in a Nutshell
Today, winning brand cultures that are built and sustained over a long period have these three similarities:
1. Hire the right people.
Build and sustain your desired brand culture, starting from recruitment. It may be tough but crucial. Zappos’s CEO, Tony Hsieh, believes in hiring the right people into the company so as to ensure and uplift the right mindset and culture within the company.
2. Believe in people.
Communicate and build relationships and trust not just externally, but internally as well. Gain City’s brand essence of trust and sincerity has been aligned and visible across all levels of the company. CEO, Mr Danny Teo wins the heart and mind of the employee with his delegation of authority and responsibilities based on trust.
3. Walk the talk.
Leaders and employees have to align their actions, speech and behaviour in order to inculcate the desired culture. Fortune awarded Google the number one spot in its 2013 list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.” This marks our fourth time at the top and the honour reflects their ongoing efforts to create a unique workplace and culture.
There are no hard and fast rules in creating a successful, desirable and enduring brand culture. There is also no one-size-fits-all strategy. Brand culture takes time to develop, so do not expect immediate or over-night changes.
In order to compete and survive in today’s fast paced landscape, brands not only have to stay apace of culture and embrace a cultural shift, but also to operate much like a culture. This will help brands stay relevant to consumers and be sustainable over time.
By Victoria Wong